Digital Fables and Foibles17

Wearable Media

Computing corduroy, memory muslin, and solar silk might be the literal fabric of tomorrow's digital dress. Instead of carrying your laptop, wear it. While this may sound outrageous, we are already starting to carry more and more computing and communications equipment on our body.

The wristwatch is the most obvious. It is certain to migrate from a mere timepiece today to a mobile command-and-control center tomorrow. It is worn so naturally that many people sleep with it on.

An all-in-one, wrist-mounted TV, computer, and telephone is no longer the exclusive province of Dick Tracy, Batman, or Captain Kirk. Within the next five years, one of the largest areas of growth in consumer products is likely to be such wearable devices. Timex already offers wireless communications between your PC and its wristwatch. The Timex watch is expected to be so popular that its clever (optical) transmission software will be incorporated in various Microsoft systems.

Our ability to miniaturize will quickly surpass our ability to power these small objects. Power is an area of technology that has moved at a turtle's pace. If the progress in battery technology developed at the same pace as integrated circuits, we would be commuting to work in cars powered by flashlight batteries. Instead, I carry more than ten pounds of batteries when traveling in order to feed my laptop on a long flight. Over time, batteries for laptops have gotten heavier, as notebook computers have acquired more functions and brighter displays. (In 1979 Sony's Typecorder, the first laptop, used only four AA batteries.)

We are likely to see some imaginative solutions to power in wearable computers. Abercrombie & Fitch already markets a safari hat with a solar cell powering a small fan that blows on your forehead. An excellent and newer candidate for power storage is your belt. Take it off and look at the enormous amount of area and volume it consumes. Imagine a faux cowhide belt with a buckle design that allows it to be plugged into the wall to recharge your cellular phone.

As for antennas, the human body itself can be part of them. Also, the form factor of most antennas lends itself to being woven into fabric or worn like a tie. With a little digital help, people's ears could work just as well as "rabbit ears."

The important point is to recognize that the future of digital devices can include some very different shapes and sizes from those that might naturally leap to mind from our current frames (sic) of reference. Computer retailing of equipment and supplies may not be limited to Radio Shack and Staples, but include the likes of Saks and stores that sell products from Nike, Levi's, and Banana Republic. In the further future, computer displays may be sold by the gallon and painted on, CD-ROMs may be edible, and parallel processors may be applied like suntan lotion. Alternately, we might be living in our computers.

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